It’s been too long since anything changed about the Yankees. That’s why all of these days are starting to feel the same. At this point, we’re all well aware that Masahiro Tanaka is available, and that Alex Rodriguez is in limbo, and that Derek Jeter is trying to bounce back, and that Robinson Cano is gone, and that Brian McCann is new, and that Mariano Rivera has retired, and that Brett Gardner has trade value, and that Brian Roberts has been hurt lately, and that Hiroki Kuroda is almost 39, and that Dave Robertson would like the opportunity to close, and that … well, you get the idea.
So I was trying to stir up some sort of new blog post idea or newspaper story topic, and I thought I’d go around the diamond looking at each position for key questions or story lines that we haven’t really explored. Some of these are probably worth diving into in detail, but for now, I why not post the list I came up with?
Position-by-position, here’s the key issue currently facing the Yankees:
(acknowledging that the pitching staff is a whole other can of worms)
First base – Mark Teixeira’s wrist
One position that could be in line for a significant upgrade over last season, but only if Teixeira’s wrist is up to the task. Is it strong enough? Can he drive the ball? How are early swings feeling? Will he be 100 percent by Opening Day? Smaller issues: Finding a backup; the development of Greg Bird.
Second base – Brian Roberts’ viability
Replacing Robinson Cano is really a team-wide issue, not necessarily a second base issue. The compelling issue at second is whether Roberts is still a viable solution (or even part of the solution). He hasn’t had more than 265 at-bats in four years. Smaller issues: Finding mix-and-match options; evaluating Dean Anna; a full season for Gosuke Katoh
Third base – Alex Rodriguez’s suspension
Obviously. There’s surely no third base issue in all of baseball as significant as the A-Rod suspension. Is he playing this year? Is his contract off the books? What sort of antics does he have in store? If he does play, what’s he capable of doing? Smaller issues: Potential regular at-bats for Kelly Johnson; sorting through minor league alternatives; challenging Eric Jagielo
Shortstop – Derek Jeter’s defense
There are a lot of questions with Jeter – will he stay healthy this year, can he hit like he did in 2012 – but the one that keeps popping into my head is whether he’s still a shortstop. Let’s assume the ankle has healed and his legs are 100 percent. Let’s also assume he can still get on a base and hit for average. That doesn’t necessarily mean he still has the range for the position. Smaller issues: The future of Eduardo Nunez; how often Brendan Ryan plays; low-level shortstops trying to emerge
Left field – Brett Gardner’s future
The Yankees have a roster spot for him, but he’s also somewhat expendable and might be their most valuable trade chip. Is he really next year’s left fielder, or is he trade fodder inevitably being flipped for a pitcher or an infielder? If he plays, is he the No. 2 hitter or the No. 9 hitter? Smaller issues: Zoilo Almonte as fourth outfielder; Vernon Wells as DFA candidate; finding playing time for versatile guys in Triple-A.
Center field – Jacoby Ellsbury’s health
It’s easy to understand why the Yankees signed Ellsbury. The upside is right there in his statistics – dangerous leadoff hitter, good defensive player, one of the best overall free agents on the market – but he’s missed significant time in two of the past four years. Smaller issues: The need for a dependable backup; the development – or trade value — of Slade Heathcott and Mason Williams
Right field – Carlos Beltran’s age
In Beltran, the Yankees signed a guy who hit .282/.343/.493 while averaging more than 600 plate appearances the past two years. If they get that sort of steady production, they’ll be thrilled. But Beltran turns 37 in April and doesn’t have the greatest health history. How often should he really play the field? Smaller issues: Testing Alfonso Soriano in right; the trade possibility of Ichiro Suzuki (or his adjustment to the bench); Tyler Austin’s attempt to bounce back
Catcher – Brian McCann’s expectations
Of the Yankees major free agent additions, none seems to have more universal praise and support than their new catcher. He’s an unquestioned upgrade, and his bat should be perfect for Yankee Stadium, but can he really live up to those expectations? How much does he have to do exactly? Smaller issues: Choosing a big league backup; keeping Gary Sanchez behind the plate; finding a permanent position for Peter O’Brien
Associated Press photos